Primed for 26

Here are my final musings before turning 26 and running 26.

The turning leaves and brisk mornings are not only indicative of Autumn’s arrival, but also of a few personal milestones that are rapidly approaching. Tomorrow I will turn 26, which is far less exciting than it sounds, but my birthday is a necessary waypost I must pass every Fall. Also on October 1st, I will be en route to the midwest as I get ready to run my second marathon on Sunday– at the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon. For me, neither turning 26 years old nor running 26 miles is anything to dread; my mind and body are well-prepared for this weekend and I plan to make each a quality 26.

Reflecting on my past year, I can say that the quarter-century mark has brought out the best of the Libra in me: my life is in a positive state of balance. As a result of my increased commitment to running (and with moving up to the marathon), I have worked to formulate a more healthy routine this year. From getting more rest to the adoption of a vegan diet, I have felt more energized and well at 25 than ever before. Additionally, my time living in Flagstaff has introduced me to so many positive and inspiring individuals: my housemates, my girlfriend, my coach, other dedicated athletes and my colleagues. Being around other motivated and congenial people in this mountain town has helped keep me in good spirits and made me feel like I am at home here. I am thankful to have such a dynamic, which keeps me focused and in a happy equilibrium. In turning 26, I will strive to continue in this healthy balance.

This weekend will also be my second marathon, at the US Championship in Minneapolis, MN. I’m excited with my level of fitness and preparedness for this 26.2 mile task. I have had a very focused Summer of training, thanks to Coach Jack’s expertise and workouts. Akin to my last marathon buildup, I have stayed healthy and been able to hone in on my ability to run harder at longer distances– although this time around I did not have any winter weather to contend with. After the progress I have made during this training phase, I feel wiser and more aerobically capable of running this event than I did in January. And so I travel to the Twin Cities this weekend feeling equipped with both the physical and mental aptitudes to take on the marathon, no longer a rookie.

As I hit the road for 26, I recall some great advice Coach Jack recently offered me:

“The road traveled is far more important than what you may achieve at the end of the journey. It’s the experiences along the way that you will remember, not your final destination.”

Thanks to everyone who has made this journey so worthwhile. I am primed for 26!

–JDE

The Jerome Hill Climb & Labor Day Weekend

I spent my Labor Day weekend running up and through the historic mining town of Jerome. Ali and I also had a few other adventures while exploring the Wild West!

Jerome, AZ sits snug on the Cleopatra Hillside about 60 miles to the southwest of Flagstaff. This historic “Wild West” silver and copper mining town dates back to 1883, and now a quaint downtown and artistic community remains amidst its ghost stories and folklore. Surely, Jerome’s panoramic view at 5000 feet and past reputation as “The Wickedest Town in the West” were enough reason for Ali and I to make the drive down early Sunday morning of the Labor Day weekend, but it was a particular event that peaked our (or rather my) interest: the Jerome Hill Climb.

My history in hill climbing– or more formally the sport of mountain running– is short and had humble beginnings. In June, my naiveté carried me half-way up the relentless 12% slopes of the Mt. Washington Auto Road before I experienced the most real form of mechanical failure. The renowned and quotable British commentator of the Tour de France, Phil Ligget, could not have described it better: “his effort is reduced to mere survival!” Having my unfavorable introduction to this new form of running masochism, I was left humbled but extremely motivated on that day. And I knew there was absolutely no way that I would abandon mountain running until I was at the top!

Looking over the course profile for my next marathon, Twin Cities, I recognized that I would need to become a stronger hill runner to be successful at this US Championship. So I worked in a few challenging, low-key hill climb races into my Summer training to improve my climbing ability. The first essay came in July at the inaugural RunFlagstaff Snow Bowl Road Hill Climb. After a practice run the week before (with Ali on bike), I soloed up the 7 miles of switchbacks and climbed over 2000 feet. I ran patiently and it was a much more controlled and sustained effort than my death throes up Mt. Washington. I felt good reaching the Agassiz Lodge Parking Lot, 2 minutes ahead of the second-place finisher and 1:30 faster than my practice run. I was excited with the improvement.

Now a month away from Twin Cities, and with my training volume at its apex, I signed up for one final ascent race. In its 40th running, the Jerome Hill Climb has evolved into a 4.4 mile race that gains 1100 feet in elevation. Starting at the Historical Park, the race course gently ascends into the downtown district and then heads up the severe mountain grades past the Ghost Town before continuing out on the winding dirt road to Perkinsville.

Even at a race distance of 4.4 miles, I stayed composed early on. I followed my breathing and worked with a steady, metronome-like cadence up the first mile. During the flat section I still maintained the same breathing pattern but allowed my legs to turnover quicker, while recovering and anticipating the hors catagorie slopes that became visible around the road’s bend. I had established a significant lead over the other runners and was still feeling comfortable. I waved when running by Ali, but seeing the upward road ahead had an unnerving effect. Luckily, my Smith Optics Pivlock V90 Sunglasses hid my solemn gaze.

After a dozen strides up, I had re-established a rhythmic connection between my breathing and my legs. Climbing requires more concentration and mindfulness (in contrast to the “autopilot mode” I might experience in a longer and flatter road race). There is constant feedback between the body and the mind. I’ve learned it’s not effective for the mind to override sensory feedback, but to manage it: to maintain an effort at my body’s limit without red-lining. As I have learned the hard way, the combination of ascending too ambitiously while racing at altitude is fatal; there is no point to recover and survival becomes the best possible result.

I followed the dirt road around the hillside, pressing but also enjoying the clear morning view. I could see the green patches of the Verde Valley, the Red Rocks in Sedona and Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks all the way up the Mogollon Rim in the distant horizon. It became clear to me why the Arizona Road Runners worked so diligently to continue hosting this race; it really showcases the State’s beauty. My focus abruptly shifted, however, as I was startled to discover the finish line chute around the following corner. I crossed the line in 26:45, and my Garmin 305 GPS Watch indicated I had run 6:05/mi pace for the 4.4mi climb.

A long run ensued after the race. I ran back down into town, changed out of my dusty Brooks T6 Racers and headed back up Perkinsville Road for about 13 miles. Marathon training isn’t over yet!

Then Ali and I went on our own “Tour of Arizona” after the race, heading to downtown Prescott for Sunday afternoon. We checked out the shops, craft fair and saloons on Whiskey Row (oh yeah and she also let me stop at the Public Library!). We rode back into the sunset that night, up the I-17, tired from our Wild West exploits. On Labor Day, I did an early morning workout in Camp Verde and then our adventure continued with a picturesque drive down to Fossil Creek. Here are a few photos from our relaxing Labor Day travels:

I hope everyone had a safe and relaxing holiday weekend! –JDE